Planning a Trip to Missoula, Montana and Western Montana
Morrell Peak Overlooking The Swan Mountains
The Top Ten Most Visited National Parks in America in 2012
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)
- Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)
- Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)
- Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)
- Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)
- Zion National Park (2,973,607)
- Olympic National Park (2,824,908)
- Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)
- Acadia National Park (2,431,052)
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)
(Source: Gadling Travel Blog)
Head West, to Western Montana
The western United States is a wonderful place to vacation, and Western Montana offers access to National Parks as well as places of unbelievable beauty with no admission charge.
Millions of people every year set out on vacations to the western United States. Their destinations largely center around the magnificent National Parks such as The Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Yellowstone and Glacier NP. Check out the box to the right to see the number of visitors to the top ten most visited parks in 2012.
The reason we flock to these places is obvious. They are beautiful beyond words. But one might get the impression that outside of the National Parks, our country is lackluster even boring. To find true, natural beauty, is it absolutely necessary for there to be a gate blocking our access and someone waiting to take our money? I want to share in this article some of the most beautiful places in America, and there is no admission charge. If you would like to know more about Glacier National park, which is only a couple of hours from Missoula, Montana, follow this link to my article on Glacier National Park.
Western Montana and the City of Missoula
Western Montana is the direction in which I’d like to point you. For this vacation, you would be based in or near the city of Missoula, Montana. Missoula is a wonderful city, but the reason I want to point you there is that of it’s proximity to so many beautiful places and so many exciting things to do. I’ll begin with the city of Missoula and move outward.
Map of Montana and Location of Missoula
The Clark Fork River and Missoula, Montana
Family Activities in Missoula, Montana
There are three farmers markets that are open from early spring and into the fall. These are experiences that go far beyond simply buying produce. Live music, food vendors, and activities for children are some of the things you can expect. Check out these websites for more information.
Downtown Missoula features dinner and entertainment every Thursday night from 5:30 to 8:30 in June, July, and August. This is a family-oriented event held at Caras Park near Higgins Street Bridge.
First Fridays is a social event held on the first Friday of each month that has many other activities but focuses on the art galleries downtown. The galleries stay open later and usually have local artists on hand to meet the public. Works of art are featured and for sale. Other businesses join in the fun, such as coffee shops, stores, museums, and restaurants. Street performers entertain young and old while street vendors supply your favorite treats.
Dinner at the Park
The Rivers of Missoula and Western Montana
Missoula is defined by its rivers. The Clark Fork, the Blackfoot and the Bitterroot Rivers twist and turn across the countryside and through the city in a way that makes you believe they are everywhere. The rivers play an important role in the recreational lives of the locals. Western Montana is a fly fishing Mecca. Kayaking and canoeing are called “going for a float.” To escape the heat of the summer, young and old flock to the rivers to swim. Visit the local outdoors store in Missoula called Trail Head for information about floating one of the rivers. Trail Head rents kayaks, canoes, and tubes at reasonable prices.
The City of Missoula and the Rivers Which Run Through It Are One
For All Accommodations
- Destination Missoula
DestinationMissoula is a website that will direct the visitor to a variety of options including RV camping, tent camping and motels. You should be able to find everything you need on this site.
Missoula is a Great Place to Stay While Visiting Western Montana
Missoula is a great home base for a vacation that will include activities in the city but will also venture out into nature, the likes of which many of us have never seen. Since Missoula is the base of operations, lets begin by highlighting some businesses that may be of help in our activities.
Outdoor Outfitters Store
- Trail Head, Outdoor Specialty Gear Store, Missoula Montana
The employees at Trail Head are active outdoor enthusiasts. Some are knowledgeable about backpacking, others about rock climbing or kayaking and canoeing. Rock climbers, there are many places to climb around Missoula and the staff at TH can help.
Fly Fishing Shops in Missoula
215 W. Front St.
Kesel's Four Rivers
1522 S. Reserve
Missoula, MT 59801
926 E. Broadway
Missoula, MT 59802
The Missoulian Angler
401 S. Orange Street
Missoula, MT 59801
Fly fishing in and Around Missoula, Montana
Missoula Montana Fly Fishing is a local business in Missoula with a website that provides excellent, in depth information about fly fishing in the area. Again, I have my favorites.
Kelly Island-While this is actually an Island, the name refers to the general area, both mainland and on the island. This is the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers. It is a beautiful area for fishing or hiking. GPS coordinates are Lat 46.867, Lng -114.1. It is the Spurgin Rd. access.
Gold Creek is reached by taking I90 east to 200 east and then left on Gold Creek Rd. From that point it is still about twelve miles to the creek, but the scenery is fantastic.
Other exciting fly fishing locations highlighted in the above link are as follows:
The Bitterroot River flows northward toward Missoula where it joins the Clark Fork River at Kelly Island. The most prevalent trout in the river is the rainbow.
The Clark Fork River originates near Butte, Montana and flows northwest through Missoula. It then follows a valley along the Cabinet Mountains and into the Idaho Panhandle where it empties into Lake Pend Oreille. The predominant trout in the river is the rainbow/cutthroat hybrid.
The Blackfoot River runs from the Continental Divide to where it joins the Clark Fork River at Milltown east of Missoula. The upper portion of the Blackfoot from its origin to the town of Lincoln, Montana, is the poorest fishing. From Lincoln to its confluence with the Clark Fork, the fishing is very good, featuring brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Rock Creek flows northward for 41 miles from the town of Philipsburg to Drummond where it joins the Blackfoot River. The fishing is good to excellent after the town of Lincoln with the rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout as well as the mountain whitefish being plentiful.
The Confluence of Two Great Fly Fishing Rivers
Fly Fishing Gold Creek
Day Hikes Near Missoula
Blodgett Canyon overlook-This trail is located off highway 93, forty-one miles south from Missoula. The round trip hiking distance is about three miles, with about 540 feet of vertical gain. Directions: Follow Main Street out of Hamilton heading west. Turn left onto Blodgett Camp Road, then left onto Canyon Creek Road. Follow Canyon Creek road to its end.
St. Mary Peak-It is a long scenic drive up the mountain to the trailhead, but the drive is well worth it. From the trailhead, the trail climbs constantly for about two miles. The hike begins in a typical mountain forest and passes through several distinct changes in the trees as it nears the timberline. Finally the trail emerges from the trees and climbs to the peak where a wild fire watch station sits. The view of the Bitterroot Mountains and canyons is spectacular. Directions: Drive 3.5 miles south of Stevensville junction on Highway 93 and turn west onto Indian Prairie Loop. Continue west 1.8 mils to St. Mary's Road, then turn right and continue 1 mile to the junction of McCalla Ridge Road and St. Mary's Peak Road (Rd 739). Drive on St Mary Peak Rd about 14 miles to the trailhead.
Kootenai Creek Trail-It is a nine mile hike from the trailhead to the Kootenai Lakes and the trail follows Kootenai Creek the entire way. Directions: From Missoula, take Highway 93 south about thirty miles to North Kootenai Rd. Turn right and travel about 2 miles to the trailhead.
Blodgett Lake and Canyon, Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
Day Trips From Missoula, MT
The National Bison Range is 18,500 acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and serves as the home for 350-500 bison. The NBR was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Visitors drive through the park to view wildlife consisting of bison, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, mountain lions, black bears, grizzly bears, bobcat and over 200 species of birds. The NBR is about an hour north of Missoula, Montana with signs off U.S. Highway 93 directing visitors to the entrance at Moiese, Montana.
Glacier National Park is 137 miles north of Missoula, Montana. Click here to learn more about Glacier National Park.
The National Bison Range
Jewel Basin, Flathead National Forest, Montana
Blodgett Canyon, My Favorite Bitterroot Hike
Backpacking in the Rattlesnake Wilderness
- Lolo National Forest - Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness
The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness entrance is located 4 miles from downtown Missoula via the Van Buren Street/Rattlesnake Drive Route. The above link will answer most questions about day hikes and backpacking.
Backpacking Farther out from Missoula
Backpacking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Western Montana
Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains/Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness
South of Missoula, Highway 93 runs through the Bitterroot Valley with the Bitterroot Mountains to the west. There are many east-west canyons along this route that are phenomenal backpacking opportunities. Here are three of my favorites.
Blodgett Canyon Trail to Blodgett Lake-Of the three canyons I backpacked into, Blodgett was the most scenic. Towering peaks line the entire trail and the trail runs consistently near the creek. This is a 12 1/2 mile hike from the trailhead to Blodgett Lake. the first third of the hike is relatively easy. When you reach the waterfalls, you will know you are about one third of the way to the lake. The elevation gain to Blodgett Lake is 2,760 ft. Because I left on my hike in the mid afternoon on a Friday, I camped at about the halfway point on the way to Blodgett Lake. There is a commonly used camping area with easy access to the creek. This site won’t be difficult to spot as you are hiking. When you get to the lake, you can camp wherever you want, but there are several sites on the north and east sides of the lake. Spend your time scrambling on the scree field on the west end of the lake, fly fishing, swimming or doing some rock climbing.
Bass Creek Trail to Bass Lake-From the trailhead to the lake is about 9 miles with an approximate elevation gain of 3500 ft. The first half of the hike is relatively easy, gaining only 500 feet in elevation. The second half is more intense, gaining 3000 feet. Bass Lake was named after D.C. Bass, a settler in the area in the 1860s. When you get to the lake, stay to the right on the north side and hike about halfway along the lake. You will see a rocky peninsula jutting out into the lake. This is an excellent camping spot as well as a great fly fishing location.
Big Creek Canyon Trail to Big Creek Lake-From the trailhead to Big Creek Lake is about 9 miles with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. The fishing is great and the scenery magnificent.
Western Montana, the Perfect Vacation Spot
Western Montana is the perfect place to plan a vacation in the western United States. Not only is there an abundance of rivers, lakes, day hiking trails and backpacking trails, but several National Parks are not far away. The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are within a few hours of Missoula, Montana. If you go, you will always look back on your trip as one of the best vacations you've ever taken.
Enjoy the photos and video that follow. Thanks for reading this article.